Mini Rants,  Writing World

O is for Overthinking

This public service announcement is brought to you in honor of the A to Z blogging challenge. ^_^

walks into room. coughs into sleeve

You are not doing yourself any favors by thinking things to death.

This happens a lot in the writing world. You’re going about your business, and all of a sudden you think, “I wonder if it’s okay for my main character to do this. Are people still going to like her after this? Is she being weak right now? Is it okay for him to save her? I don’t want people to think that I think girls are weak and can’t save themselves.”

You know what….who cares? Is that what your MC wants to do? Then let them do it! It’s their story. Nothing messes up a story faster than overthinking things. Now, if something is nagging you and you can’t stop thinking about it — that is different. Listen to that. But if you’re staring at your story and wondering if this character should do this and that and how is that going to make them look or make YOU look, STOP. You are NOT being true to your story or your characters or even yourself.

There’s a writerly quote I saw one time that said: Your subconscious knows what to write; get out of the way.

That means stop overthinking, obsessing, and worrying about crap. It doesn’t get you to a solution any faster. In fact, it increases the chances that you will royally muck it up, so back off.

I have no shortage of examples, so here’s an example on why sometimes, you just need to pick your hands up and back away for a beat.

Chains of Destiny, a story I rewrote almost 4 times before realizing it was never going to work, in the first version, my character was alone, beaten down by the world, blah, blah, blah. I worried constantly about her coming off as too much of a loner. I got halfway through the story and started her POV over again from page 1. This was after 2 months. Normally, the first draft would be done or just about. Instead, I had gotten nowhere.

What should I have done as soon as I known I had a problem? Done something else. ANYthing else. Even quitting it. I spent so much time worrying about one of the main characters and the plot and about what it meant if I couldn’t make even a story full of characters I love work out, that I wasted a whole lot of time fussing over the story and not nearly enough time making an actual decision.

So what did I end up with, obsessing over things like I did? Six months of time spent writing and rewriting because I couldn’t let go of the fact that I had messed up and wouldn’t let myself move on until I fixed it, even after I KNEW this was not the story I needed to be writing. At the very least, I should have just stepped back and given myself some time to look at it objectively so I could see what was happening.

In that six months, I could have tried this story, stopped when it wasn’t working, learned a bunch of life and writing lessons, and FINISHED another story! Like drafting, editing, and everything. ALL in that six months of time that I spent on ONE story because I was too busy thinking things to the GRAVE!

So yeah, when I say you’re ruining your story (and wasting a lot of energy) by thinking too much, you are. All I have to do is look at my track record, and I can see that every single time I’ve hated something, it was an aspect of the story I was either overthinking or not listening to my gut. Every single time. Even in stories I think are flawless. (ha, ha) If there is a scene I worried too much over, I still don’t like that scene.

There’s no point in over-analyzing these things (sayeth the OCD person.) Either crap or get off the pot, right? Either FIX the problem or put it aside until you figure it out. I know from experience, you will figure it out a lot faster if you’re not staring it down all the time! That problem with Chains of Destiny wasn’t fixed until I took my hand off the story! So…

Let’s be carefree. Let’s stop overthinking things. (end PSA) ^_^


  • Michelle McGill-Vargas

    I have to agree with you. Whenever I get stuck on a scene and can’t move forward no matter what I put on the page, it’s because I’m forcing my characters to do something they don’t want to do or taking them in a direction they don’t want to go. I have to step away for a few days and let what they want play out in my head, then I can get back to writing. So you, listen to your characters! Great post.

  • Jodi

    “…if you’re staring at your story and wondering if this character should do this and that and how is that going to make them look or make YOU look, STOP. You are NOT being true to your story or your characters or even yourself.”

    SO TRUE.

    I feel like this is what makes me a newb in writing–the fact that I DO think about these things and worry about pleasing my readers. I feel like more experienced writers are so much more relaxed, and it shines in their stories. They don’t worry about what others will think about their characters’ decisions. They just let their characters live out the story and be themselves.

    There are a few stories I wrote for myself, never bothering to worry how things “sounded” to an outsider. These pieces are the ones I love the most. They’re raw, and they’re real. If I can ever figure out a way to do this in all my writing, this will really take me to the next level. But for now, I’ll settle for marveling at all y’all who have this mastered.

    • krystal jane

      There’s this thing I like to tell myself whenever I start to freak out. There’s that saying: Dance like no one is watching, Sing like no one can hear you. Then I add, Write like no one will ever read it. It just reminds me that if I’m going to take the time, I might as well do what I want. At least then, if someone hates it, I know that I love it and it’s what I wanted, if nothing else. And I really do sing better, I think, if I think no one can hear me. 🙂

      Back in the early writing days I never worried about it, but when I got to college, I suddenly became very paranoid, probably because people were really digging into my work for the first time. Took me about seven years to write with the freedom that I had as a kid again. Doesn’t keep me from freaking out between projects, but that’s what talking to yourself is for. ^_^

  • Michelle Tran (@michelletwrites)

    Ha I LOVE this post, because I can so relate. I’ve been overthinking M3 so much, fussing and stressing about it that it’s kept me so unproductive. After going to the scbwi conference and having many heart to heart talks with myself, I’m deciding to shelve it and go on. Maybe I’ll come back to it, but maybe I won’t. All I know is, it’s counterproductive to overthink 😛

    • krystal jane

      Exactly! I have a lot of heart to hearts with myself, too. ^_^ I figure, if I really want to work on something, nothing will stop me. I’ll do it anyway and push past all the doubt and struggles and stress because THAT’S how badly I want to work on it. 🙂

  • sandiedocker

    “Your subconscious knows what to write; get out of the way.” LOVE it! So, so true. We are our own worst enemies sometimes (a lot). Stop thinking, write, let the magic flow. (Easier said than done 🙂 )

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